If you’ve been in teaching long enough, you know that every few years you get that perfect mix of students sitting at your desks: the unicorn class. The magic starts in the computer. Somehow, during scheduling, this rare set of students gets grouped together for a certain class period. It’s a small class. A diverse group and a good ratio of girl to boy. No one too popular, not too many from one clique. No one has dated previously. They like each other.
Then the year starts. They may know you from previous encounters — you’ve taught them before, traveled with them, chaperoned their field trip. Shared a room with their previous teacher. You already know a little bit about their demeanor and their backstory. When you give them that little Google form at the beginning of the year to get to know them, you don’t have to read it very closely to know who hates reading and who wants to major in English.
Then they start learning. They don't raise their hands; they have a conversation. They get there early and thank you when they leave. They tell you what’s wrong when you ask. They want to know more. In my class, they share their views on guns, the environment, the economy. They understand that these issues are complex; that there are no right answers. They get my jokes.
They ask, “How was your weekend?” and not just to waste class time. They pass the tissue box to someone who is sniffling. They have pens and granola bars and extra Starbursts to share. They doodle quotes on the board. They sincerely apologize when the pencil sharpener shavings fall on the floor, when their water bottle tips over, and when they come in a few seconds (or minutes) late. They push their chairs in when class is over.
Then, because you think such warm thoughts about all of them, you get extra-emotionally involved. You go to see their games and search for final scores in the morning paper. You go to their performances and keep the programs. You sit down with them with their friends just to see what everyone’s having for lunch, what’s going on for the weekend. You call their parents by their first names when you see them. You help them craft a break-up speech, help them choose a college.
Then, it seems with every unicorn class, there is some kind of crisis. I’ve had students die. Students’ parents die. Teachers die. Life-changing injuries. Cancer. 9/11.
A Global Pandemic.
The class talks, shares, cries, gets mad, consoles, forgives. With every unicorn class, we celebrate. We give Valentines, sing ’90s songs. I bring them doughnuts on a random Friday. We get hype for winning rival games together and don’t talk about it when we lose.
In a unicorn class, everyone has a role, everyone has a gift. In my two senior AP English classes at Trinity, I have painters, storytellers, mountain-bikers, equestrians, actors, scientists, swimmers, salespeople, photographers, managers, leaders. I have surfers, travelers, goalies, an ice-skater, a pianist. A grocery-store cashier and motivational speaker in one. Eagle scouts. Team captains, MVPs, a sports announcer, and the school mascot. A current and future rock star or two.
How appropriate that The Year 2020, a year no one will ever forget, has given me two unicorn classes in one year. How ironic to have the kind of classes that you never want to end in a year dramatically cut short.
Class of 2020, you are special. Legendary. A cynical teacher would say that this kind of class is a myth. And as your world turns virtual and back again in the next few months and years, know this: You’re rare. Go out into your next classrooms and offices and homes and be as friendly and funny and as versatile and passionate as you are — make others believe, as I do, that you’re extraordinary.